There are all of these places in the city that are very easy to forget about because I usually have nothing to do with them. Like the fire hall on 13th. I mean, I haven't forgotten it's there, but it still always kind of surprises me when I see the giant doors open and hear the sirens screaming from inside. Like I've forgotten that people need fire trucks sometimes.
I'm thinking about that this morning as I sit in the waiting room at Wascana Rehab absently rocking Sullivan's car seat with one foot. A little girl sits on the floor to my left, quietly turning the pages of a tattered storybook. She looks up at me and grins, and it strikes me that she isn't as young as I'd thought at first. A man whirs past in an electric wheelchair.
Sullivan's eyes creep open and I rock him faster. They close.
My mum-in-law works here so it's not like it's my first time in the building, but there's a vast difference between being here as a visitor and being here as a patient or, in my case, the mother of a patient. Kind of like there's a difference between visiting a fire hall on a school field trip and being the resident of a burning house.
That sounds much more dramatic than I mean it to.
Because it's a pretty minor thing that has brought us here. Sullivan sprained his neck on his way into the world and was diagnosed with torticollis a few weeks later, so we're doing physio for a bit until everything is as it should be. He hates the stretches, but he's doing really well. He gets to see his grandma at work and his physiotherapist is a really sweet lady who hates to make him cry.
A middle-aged woman sits down beside me. She has two girls; one in a wheelchair, and one on foot. The one in the wheelchair has a big, toothy smile. Her hands hang from limp wrists in front of her and her feet are twisted inward at strange angles. The girl on foot, the younger of the two, glares at me when I catch her eye. She slumps into a chair and redirects her frown into a magazine, repeatedly kicking her feet into the floor beneath her. She looks like a brat, but maybe she's just bored.
"Mom!" The older girl's voice is loud and clear in the quiet waiting room. It surprises me. "Where's--where's my friend Jill?"
"We're not going to see Jill today. We're just here to pick up your new wheelchair," says the mother. Then, more to herself than to her daughter, "We'll just need someone strong to help us load it up."
"I'll help you, mom. I'm super strong!" The girl's hands clench and unclench involuntarily as she beams at her mother, who is trying to reposition her daughter's feet on the wheelchair's footrest so they don't fall off when she wiggles her upper body like that. She looks tired and doesn't answer.
"Mom? Mom? Don't you--don't you think? I could do it? If I tried very hard? I'm strong. Jill says I'm strong." She offers that smile again, this time to a petite woman pushing a food cart across the hall.
The mother's eyes follow the food cart down the hall and her words fall out in a rush. She's frustrated with the footrest, with a piece of hair falling in her eyes, maybe even with her daughter's perpetual optimism in spite of her twisted legs. "I know you're strong, honey. But to be any help at all, you'd have to be able to stand up. And how's that going to work? It's not, is it?"
The room is quiet again.
I'm watching it all and thinking about the fire truck thing again. Because people who need fire trucks don't wake up in the morning thinking that they will need fire trucks. Just like the people in this building all woke up one morning not knowing that they'd need it, that that day they'd have a stroke or that their toddler would be diagnosed with some kind of disease they couldn't pronounce the name of or that their healthy teenage daughter would be in a car accident.
An old man shuffles by with the help of a cane, mumbling to himself out of the corner of his mouth. The receptionist is on the phone, laughing. The mother with the two girls looks ready to burst into tears and Sullivan is asleep.